Every year, golf clubs invest thousands of euro in their courses just to keep the course in good condition. So, every year, I ask a question to find out what other significant investments have been made. My question to clubs and through Social Media was this:
- What 2020 investment has your club made in your course, facilities, clubhouse?
– New holes, greens, bunkers? What about course routing or tree clearing?
– Has there been a clubhouse revamp or a new range, buggy fleet, website added?
Simple enough you’d think but in the year of Covid-19, I received one blunt response: “With all due respect, I think survival was top of the agenda this year and possibly next year too.”
Survival was undoubtedly the key concern and many clubs put development plans on hold for obvious financial reasons – as well as the lack of a crystal ball – but that hasn’t stopped others from pursuing improvements, upgrades and additions. It should be noted that many of these have been long term projects that started in 2019, or earlier. It should also be noted that so much work done on golf courses is done by volunteer members and therefore often slips below the radar of an article like this. The following is by no means a complete list of all clubs carrying out works but it certainly gives a taste for what has been going on.
- The Major Projects
The St Patrick’s Links at the sprawling Rosapenna resort was finished by Tom Doak this year and it will open for play in 2021. It’s a huge boon for golf in Donegal… but then so too is the newly reopened, Gil Hanse-redesigned Narin & Portnoo. Two Donegal links designed by two of the biggest names in golf course architecture. That’s something we will probably be talking about for years to come.
I admit to knowing little about what Doak is doing at Rosapenna, other than combining the previous two 18-hole courses in an entirely new layout, but I have seen the work at Narin & Portnoo. This remote outpost of Irish links golf has evolved hugely in the past 20 years and the new iteration makes a magnificent statement. New greens, new layout, new holes… and an upgraded clubhouse, too.
Another major project is underway at Glasson Golf Club, on Lough Ree. The hotel – Glasson Lakehouse – is also getting a stylish makeover but, for golfers, it is the redesign of the closing six holes which really catches the eye. David Jones has been brought in to make the changes which will include four new holes on the slopes drifting down to the lough. The famous par three 15th, hitting over the lough itself, will now become the 17th and the course will be changing from a par 73 to a par 71. Holes are due to open in the middle of next year but that is only part of the project as the planning application for the resort includes a new clubhouse, gym, spa, wedding barn, eco cabins and hotel upgrades. The driving range will have the latest technology installed, as will Professional Lynn McCool’s golf academy. The new owners have certainly made an early splash with a fleet of 24 new buggies and €250,000 spent on greenkeeping equipment. Expect the ripples of this project to extend long into the future.
Castlebar Golf Club is one of the jewels of the west, renowned for its greens and its effortless rhythm. By all accounts that rhythm hasn’t changed despite six completely new holes and five redesigned holes, which include three new green complexes. The design by Jeff Howes and construction by DARGolf has gone down very well with members and the ‘new’ course will be opened officially next year. Two old holes that are no longer in use are being maintained as practice areas. Other projects are being looked at within the club including an upgrade to the club’s computer system, as well as the booking and scoring system.
The magical Ballyliffin, with its two 18-hole links courses, has not been content to rest on its laurels since hosting a highly successful Irish Open in 2018. No, the club has now added a new 9-hole par three course designed by the venerable Pat Ruddy, with construction work by the club’s greenkeeping team. The new short course opened in the Spring, and is a wonderful addition to the club, offering a different and more accessible experience for visitors as well as members (much like the recent par-3 holes at Tralee). It will be an education in the art of the short game. Set on a mere 14 acres, but boasting the familiar Ballyliffin terrain and dunescape, holes measure from 90 to 146 yards.
“The Pollan Links is just that – a true links – as it sits into the calm end of the great Ballyliffin dunes and designed to provide the club player with an opportunity to sharpen 70 per cent – a lot more for high handicappers – of their entire golf game,” said Pat Ruddy.
John Farren, Ballyliffin’s General Manager, added: “The course had been in planning for many years and the club wanted to host the Irish Open prior to breaking ground so that we could fully appreciate the logistical requirements of staging a major European Tour event and the impact this would have on the footprint of the Pollan Links.”
The club’s winter works programme this year includes a new championship tee on Glashedy’s 10th (adding 27 yards), a new society and ladies’ tee on the 11th, and a new society tee on the 17th. The Old is also having some extras added, including a new approach and new bunkering on the 18th.
There is another links, The Island Golf Club, where Martin Ebert’s work on the front nine was introduced to the world at the start of the summer. The two new holes (8 and 9), the reconfigured 5th (the old 4th) and the upgraded 4th (the par three initially designed by Martin Hawtree a few years ago), will give more sparkle to the front nine… in an attempt to make them match the renowned brilliance of the back nine. Early impressions suggest it has achieved that goal.
Finally, one that most will not have heard of is at Clonakilty Golf Club, on the Lisselan Estate. This 9-hole club (formerly known as Lisselan) is stretching its wings as it moved to 12 holes in May this year. Three new holes were added while the existing nine also received much attention. There is a view to adding six more new holes in the years ahead.
- The Big Enough Projects
Arklow Golf Links opened new tee boxes on seven holes and invested in new bunkers by EcoBunker on holes 15 and 18. Additional work was done to mounds around greens. This dynamic links – not appreciated enough in my opinion and possessing a wonderful set of five par-3s – has purchased a rough mower, a greens mower and an iron to improve the putting surfaces. Add to that a new tractor for overseeding of greens, tees and fairways and the club has had a busy and productive 2020. Clubhouse upgrades, including a kitchen refit and dining room renovation, are also underway.
The remote and beautiful Dingle Links has completed Phase 1 of a multi-phase course improvement plan. The 1st hole has a new tee complex and three fairway bunkers in the landing zone. Improvements have also been made to the 9th and 18th, with reshaped approaches and fairway bunkers. The design work is being done by Ken Kearney.
At Malone Golf Club, Kearney is adding new and upgrading greens on several holes (9, 11, 14, 16 and 18). There has also been bunker and tee remodelling, as well as an impressive new practice area. The club has also added a dedicated buggy parking area.
With its PGA designation (2019) it’s no surprise that Slieve Russell has been investing in the course. A new tee farther back in the trees on the par four 12th (one of the club’s signature water holes) means golfers playing from the blue and white tees now have to drive over much more water. Ken Kearney presented a comprehensive report on thinning the course’s trees to creating more vistas, allow in more light and generally improve holes. This will be carried out as a winter project. Two Toro Rough Mowers have also been added to the machinery fleet.
The club also invested in the ‘Raflewski Golf Academy’ which is headed up by Gordon Smyth, the resort’s Head PGA Professional and Golf Manager. The name ‘Raflewski’ may not be that familiar to many golfers but Gareth Raflewski has worked with over 60 of the world’s best PGA and LPGA players in the past three years. Originally from Omagh and now based in Canada, he has opened Ireland’s first Performance Academy with a state-of-the-art short game studio at Slieve Russell.
Considerable new tee returfing has been underway this year at the 36-hole Clandeboye Golf Club, along with an extension to the practice area and floodlighting for same. A six hole junior course is also being developed to attract and inspire a younger audience. That’s not all, as old walls around both courses are being restored… by the appropriately named ‘Walls Team’ volunteers.
Blackwood Golf Centre, outside Bangor, has invested in a new short game facility, driving range improvements and additional surface maintenance treatments. Tree clearing has also been carried out on the centre’s singularly charming and colourful 18-hole parkland – the Hamilton course.
“The short game facility is the last piece of the jigsaw to complete Blackwood as the ultimate place to work on your game,” says Paul Gray, Golf Professional at Paul Gray Golf and at Blackwood. “It has a great driving range, a great putting green, the best 18 hole par 3 course in the country and an 18 hole championship course but it had no short game area. Now it has and it has made use of dead land right beside the clubhouse and gives a great customer journey from the shop to the range, to the putting green, to the short game area and then just beyond sits the new first tee. We changed the nines around on the Hamilton to create this amongst other things and it all flows very well now.”
Athy Golf Club has reduced the size of five bunkers and grassed over three others that were, essentially, no longer relevant. More work is planned for the club’s bunkers this winter, with assistance from club volunteers. The reduced number and size is for maintenance and economic purposes, as well as from member feedback. The club has also purchased 10 new items of machinery – some as replacements but also some new (e.g. a mulcher and an iron). Volunteers are also looking after many other elements around the course.
The biggest rebunkering programme of the past two years was completed in May, at Dublin’s Hermitage Golf Club. This comprehensive project addressed all of the club’s 52 bunkers, with the work carried out by DARGolf. The words remodelled, moved, reshaped and removed all apply here and show the difficulties that bunkers can bring to a course over time. At Hermitage, some were brought back from greens where sand splash was affecting the turf, some were turned into grass swales where grass can be allowed to grow to increase the difficulty around the green, and all were reduced in size as they had grown bigger over the years. On the par five 11th the lone fairway cross bunker has changed into three smaller ones. Overall, the bunkers are back to fitting more appropriately into their environment. Similarly, a new short game area and green has been added with swales to represent what is on the course.
“We started with 27 bunkers on the front nine and 25 on the back nine,” says Eddie Farrell, the club’s General Manager, “and we ended up with 20 on the front and 32 on the back. All in all we started with 52 and ended with 52 but we have 40% less sand surface as we made the bunkers smaller.”
Before Lockdown 2.0, RTE’s Greg Allen tweeted: “Played 9 holes @Hermitagegolfc yesterday. Used to play it frequently with friends but it had been a while & had somewhat forgotten or not appreciated how varied & challenging it is. With the new bunkering settling it’s among the best members owned parklands in Leinster…”
Started in April 2019, Bandon Golf Club has been upgrading its course and facilities through Ken Kearney. A new chipping area, practice green and two bunkers were added. As part of the same process the ground around the 1st green was re-shaped and four bunkers, deemed to be too close to the green, were replaced with three new ones. Such was the success of the changes that the club elected to have Bandon’s entire bunkering upgraded. The first phase started in January 2020, and included closing twelve bunkers and creating two new ones. Kearney is working with DAR Golf and EcoBunker.
“Many of the bunkers will be repositioned to give a better feel for the hole and will greatly reduce maintenance costs,” the club’s Richard Kingston reports. “The members of Bandon are delighted with the progress to-date and the remodelling will be a massive upgrade for the course.”
The coastline course at Woodbrook Golf Club, just north of Bray, has done a lot of work to its bunkering this year and it has added real vigour to the green complexes on several holes. The project to upgrade and reinvent the bunkering at Strandhill Golf Club was completed in 2020, with the final three holes finished. In addition, new tee complexes were constructed on 9 and 15, and fairways reshaped on 6 and 15. Bunker renovation by (re)Golf is underway at Naas Golf Club. (re)Golf has conducted considerable design work at the club in recent years and this renovation work is the icing on the cake.
Royal County Down recently invested in a fleet of four new John Deere 7500A E-Cut hybrid electric fairway mowers. Most golf clubs have a revolving upgrade programme of new replacing old, but with love and expertise, greenkeepers can keep machines going for years. At Royal County Down, two vintage John Deere 1200A bunker rakes – ‘vintage’ being 15 years old – are still doing exactly what they are supposed to.
- Buggy Fleets
Buggies get old and battered (do a YouTube search for ‘Fast, Furious and Golf Cart Fails!!!’ and you’ll see Darwin Award wannabes) and technology moves on so golf clubs updating their buggies tends to be a constant investment. Or you go for the whole hog and replace the lot, as at Luttrellstown Castle, which purchased a sparkling new fleet of 16 ClubCar Tempo golf carts in 2020, equipped with visage GPS.
- New Websites
Little surprise that clubs took the opportunity during lockdown to update or replace their websites. It’s one of your chief calling cards so having an attractive site that is colourful and easy to navigate is essential in keeping members in the loop and attracting visitors from near and far.
New websites appeared for Rosslare, Kanturk, Wicklow, North West, Banbridge, and Corrstown. Others that have come on line in recent weeks, or have yet to go live, include Monkstown, Ardee, Ballyliffin, County Louth, Connemara Links, Athenry, Clones and Ashbourne.
Take a look at North West’s website (www.northwestgolfclub.com). I’ve always told golfers who want to visit that they need to avoid a strong fade on 10 of the opening 11 holes…. with Lough Foyle threatening on six of these. There’s now no better way to prove that than directing golfers to the website’s new hole flyovers.
- The Rest
Ken Kearney has had a productive year. He has been looking at a tree management programme at Athenry Golf Club, and remodelling the 17th hole at Mallow Golf Club.
Another Kearney project is underway at Kanturk Golf Club, where small upturned-saucer greens will challenge your short game prowess. A new practice putting and chipping green have been added, with some fairway drainage. Work started in June 2020, and the club also launched its new website.
And since we’re talking about Kearney… Kilkee Golf Club in Co. Clare, is also having a makeover with a green extension, definition mounding, and tee and bunker remodelling. Add to that a new practice area to include target greens, drainage and irrigation and it’s a busy time ahead for a course that possesses one of the most dramatic short par-4s (the 3rd) on the island.
On July 4th, Bray Golf Club opened their new par-3 4th hole, which is higher up the slopes than the previous downhill 4th. The hole plays over a pond, with another stretching away behind the green. It is short – it plays from 85 to 155 yards – and its setting is enchanting. The club is keen to express its thanks to the National Sports Council for their assistance. Meanwhile, that old 4th green has been remodelled to create a new short game practice area.
Dublin’s Edmondstown Golf Club is seeing its short par four 6th remodelled by (re)Golf. The green will move forward and be in front of the stream, rather than behind it. This has also led to strategic new bunkering.
At Tramore Golf Club, members have been pruning countless trees (up to shoulder height on many holes) to reduce the number of lost balls, to make it less penal and to speed up play. This is a perfect example of how important volunteer efforts are to a club… something also seen at Fermoy Golf Club, over many years, as storms have flattened trees which members then chop up and remove… this year included. At Donaghadee Golf Club, this year has seen the club’s members out in force, refurbishing the clubhouse inside and out.
Co Sligo Golf Club’s 3rd green has been re-turfed with sod from the pitching green, which means the pitching green also had to be reseeded. A new putting/chipping green has been added to the Bomore nine. A Coastal Protection Project has also been deployed to protect dunes alongside the beach which have taken a battering over the years.
Seapoint Golf Club have invested heavily in their course conditioning, while a new Pro shop also opened during the year. Cork Golf Club has been carrying out a lot of clearance work, cutting back and removing trees, as well as gorse, to open up the course. This has revealed the true grandeur of the famous quarry. Much of the work took place in the early part of the year but the par three 7th has had much brush and undergrowth removed in recent weeks to allow the area to return to its more natural wetlands state.
The Connemara Golf Links, perched on the edge of the world with 27 wild and wonderful holes, is another course that has been working hard in recent years with constant changes and improvements. New mounding has been added to the 1st hole, as well as a new tee box, while upgraded bunkers by EcoBunker have been introduced on the 16th and 18th. This is part of a larger ongoing plan. Elsewhere, drainage work has been carried out between the 9th and 10th fairways.
Carne Golf Links secured grant funding under both the Sports Capital Programme and the LEADER funding scheme. This enabled the club to completely refurbish the Men’s changing rooms facilities, which have been modernised to include locker space, new seating, new flooring and wall coverings. The Ladies changing rooms should follow, in the New Year. The golf shop has also benefited. Currently in the works is the purchase of new machinery including fairways and greens mowers, a sprayer, and other golf course equipment, totalling €200,000.
From a golf course perspective, Carne has famously created the Wild Atlantic Dunes course, which combines Hackett’s original back nine with the new (2013) Kilmore nine. 18 more dramatic holes you will not find. Anywhere. Such a re-routing required new signage and new scorecards.
Tralee Golf Club has had a busy few years of investment with the opening of a new golf academy and a par three course, as well as the implementation of a course Masterplan. In January, the redesigned holes on 4, 5 and 9 opened and development of the course will continue with the Scottish golf course architect, Graeme Webster, at the helm.
- Waiting for the Roar
It is worth noting that the biggest project that did not get started this year was the redevelopment of the mighty Druids Glen. My favourite parkland in Ireland is bringing in Peter McEvoy to oversee the replacement of all 18 greens (and tee boxes) to give the Glen fresh energy. The work will require the course to be closed for a lengthy period as the redevelopment is undertaken. It is now anticipated this will happen in 2021. The new owners (the Neville Hotel Group) are investing significantly in the club and resort and plans are also afoot to upgrade the clubhouse, too.
Ardglass Golf Club is another club that has paused operations temporarily. Ardglass is right in the middle of a multi-phase development with Ken Kearney at the helm. The year 2020 was due to be phase five which would have seen new green complexes on the 1st and 5th, and a larger teeing area on 5. Nine holes have already been redeveloped in the opening four phases with 36 new revetted links style bunkers, new teeing areas, some definition mowing and mounding along with a refurbished drain on one of its signature holes, the par-5 11th.
“All round it has been really positive,” says Paul Vaughan, the club’s Director of Golf. “The first four phases have bedded in lovely and have resulted in many positive comments from members and visitors alike. We just can’t wait for Covid to pass and get back to normality with International visitors returning.” It’s a sentiment we all share.